The Summer Heroes
Considered the Sorian Empire’s “gateway to the east”, the city of Tholceus sits on the western shore of Lake Argive. Though it does not boast a large population, a substantial majority of trade between the Empire and eastern Orem passes through the city, as the Empire Wall naturally funnels traffic there.
History of the City
Tholceus was founded in 896 BR by the Emperor Lynceus, to celebrate the 25th year of his reign. Named after himself and his husband, the Dycastor Thollo, the city was designated a provincial capital and was considered by the Emperor the crowning jewel of his massive, decades-long project to rebuild the eastern half of the Empire.
In 900 BR, the citizens of Tholceus erected two massive statues, one of Lynceus and the other of Thollo, to watch over the eastern gate of the city. Though Lynceus had died two years prior, Thollo, despite his failing health, was determined to make the dedication ceremony. Thollo also requested the translation of Lynceus’ body from the capital, Soren, to Tholceus, so that they might both be interred there.
Lynceus was succeeded by his niece, Herodata, who began construction of the Great Wall of the Empire. As it was politically untenable to demolish the city (standing, as it did, right in the Wall’s intended path)- and given Herodata’s affection for her uncle, highly unlikely she considered such a thing in the first place- Tholceus has the curious distinction of being the only true “interruption” in the Empire Wall.
The Empire Wall had the unsurprising effect of literally forcing land traffic to use certain entry points into the Sorian Empire, of which Tholceus has been the primary beneficiary. The ease of traversing the Iron River and Lake Argive has made Tholceus’ port a very busy place indeed and enriched the city considerably.
Though far from the heart of the Empire, Soren, a posting at Tholceus is widely considered prestigious (a posting to any other place of proximate distance would, however, certainly be understood as exile and the death of a career).
A City of Stone and Bronze
Tholceus itself was not planned as a major metropolis. It is said that the Emperor Lynceus designed the city himself; the city is orderly and planned in almost obsessive detail, a fact which supports this claim (requests for entry into the Imperial Archives by historians and architects have been denied, and so the claim remains unsubstantiated by documentation), as Lynceus was widely known for such tendencies.
The city is a square, with four entrances (the North, South, East, and West Gates). The East Gate faces Lake Argive and provides access to the harbor, while the remaining three gates provide landward access (though, in practice, the North and South Gates are infrequently used, as they do little more than provide access to roads that run parallel to the Empire Wall).
Tholceus is clean and well-kept, and no part of the city remains that has not been scrupulously built up, over, or on. All the roads are paved and the city enjoys a sophisticated and self-contained plumbing system (powered, it is rumored, by a system of Devouring Bags and Decanters of Endless Water, but the city’s Chief Architect and her predecessor have been notoriously tight-lipped about it) that rivals even the Imperial Palace in Soren.
Tiered gardens, bronze fountains, and avenues of flower beds decorate the city, while bronze streetlamps keep the main thoroughfares lit with permanent magical enchantments.
Despite the city’s meticulous beauty (its detractors are usually quick to note that the city looks “nothing if not artificial” and usually decry it as an “Imperial neurosis set in stone”), it is best known for the towering figures of Thollo and Lynceus that flank the East Gate. A staggering two hundred feet high, the statues jointly bear aloft an enormous torch, which doubles as a lighthouse for the ships plying Lake Argive and the Iron River.
Also of note are the famed Lynceus Bronzes. Composed of Sorian Bronze, the Lynceus Bronzes are huge sheets of bronze that adorn the walls of the city, flanking the four gates. The Bronzes are inscribed with quotations from the speech the Emperor made during the dedication of the city itself.
Finally, though not part of the city’s original plan, the tomb of Thollo and Lynceus rests in the central plaza, at the intersection of the city’s main roads. The tomb was requested by Thollo, who used his considerable influence as Emperor-Consort-Emeritus, as well as Dycastor-Emeritus (and the general popularity of both himself and his late husband) to affect the translation of Lynceus’ body to the city.
A Gateway of Water and Gold
Tholceus’ position as gateway to eastern Orem has allowed it to easily tap into the vast wealth flowing into and out of the Empire. Merchants were quick to recognize the city’s potential and snapped up property within the city early in its development. After a hundred years of serving as a mercantile gateway for the Sorian Empire, Tholceus has become fabulously wealthy.
Standards of living in Tholceus are incredibly high, and the merchant families who reside there have used their considerable wealth and influence to ensure that Tholceus is essentially frozen in time—no new development has taken place inside or outside the city in decades. The volume of trade Tholceus sees would normally give rise to a much larger city, but the merchants have stifled this development (usually under the guise of “historical preservation”). This reached its apex in 964 BR, when the merchant houses of Tholceus bribed the Imperial Dycastery to issue a decree requiring new development over a certain sum to obtain approval from the Dycastery itself. (Given the staggering property values in the city, this has bogged any and all new development down in an unbelievable level of bureaucracy and paralyzed the city’s possible development, probably forever.) This piece of legislation is widely regarded as “the most expensive decree ever issued by the Dycastery”.
Imperial governors, bureaucrats, and soldiers who are posted to Tholceus almost invariably return from the posting considerably wealthier, a fact which has not escaped the notice of many within the Empire’s government. Postings to Tholceus are widely coveted, not only because of the “largesse” received by civil servants during their time, but also because Tholcean merchants are eager to maintain the lucrative status quo and so vigilantly police their own to avoid anything that might give outsiders a reason to intervene.